Recently, once again looking for cooking inspiration, I turned to the Bittman Minimalist videos. I got some ideas, but was mostly distracted by the convenient emergence of things like a bowl of perfectly diced onions, or of breadcrumb-parmesan mixture. This is a common-enough cooking-show shortcut, but is less forgivable when the very point of these videos is to show how easy it is to cook from scratch. An asparagus dish covered in breadcrumbs and parmesan is only super-simple and entirely from scratch if, behind the scenes, an intern or whatever has not only procured but prepared the toasted/stale bread and cheese in the right quantities. If I were to recreate this dish, I'd need to do all of that on my own, not to mention assemble and disassemble, put through the semi-functioning dishwasher, then reassemble, the food processor. Not insurmountable, and I do this sort of thing all the time, but a far cry from the effortlessness implied.
This is, I'll admit, a point I've been making at WWPD since forever: home-cooking is worthwhile, but a pain in the neck. And as long as we've got professionals urging us to cook at home more - people who not only are furthering their careers every time they do chop up some onions, but who also have someone to do that sort of thing for them - the message fails to convince those not already on board. Even if you totally know how to cook, even if you have relevant spices and pantry items, you still need to grocery-shop, prep, and clean up from meals. This will always take time, and will never get more interesting.
So I of course approve of Tracie McMillan's latest in Slate.
So here’s my proposition for foodies and everyone else: Continue to champion the cause of cooking, but admit that cooking every day can be a drag. Just because it’s a drag doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it—we do things every day that are a drag. We take out the trash, we make our beds, we run the vacuum, we pay the bills. These are not lofty cultural explorations, but they are necessary, and so we do them anyway. This reality check is exactly what’s missing from our discussion about our meals.This I can get behind 100%. (Well, almost - who needs bed-making?) McMillan came to this conclusion for far more noble/impressive reasons than I did - she was living on minimum wage as part of an experiment for a book, while I was, am, just a grad student. But no matter where you come at this from, no matter what you're prepared to spend on groceries, there's always this discrepancy between the time and effort it actually takes to prepare a meal from scratch and the simple, enjoyable process we're told to expect. And it's tough to find a way out of this, because those for whom cooking is a chore are rarely going to become professional home-cooking advocates.